Attempting to add another classic Princess yarn to the Disney elite club of female protagonists – the princess and the Frog succeeds on a visual level – but fails to raise the right amount of laughs or drama expected of the best of the best.
Now there is enough charm in this film to get it by – and it starts off very impressively with a decent enough heroine living in the bayou (Beautifully realised in the animation) and a cocky enough smug hero – and a very imposing villain in the films set up, through a bad case of extremely mistaken identities, end up being turned into frogs. But once we hit the swamp it all starts to fall apart as the couple bicker and argue in their reptillian states and encounter trumpet playing Alligators and old-croney bugs. The films finale is a bit of a step up, but it is too little too late to make the film the classic it could have been.
The film’s voodoo villain, Dr Facilier (Keith David) is probably the greatest achievement in character in the picture – he also has the best song. We are used to the bad guys having songs by now and this one is also combined with the likes of the trippy songs (Yes! Pink Elephants On parade) type of material. Like Frollo’s number from Disney’s Hunchback, this is dark and spooky and likely to frighten youngsters; in fact the character has so much of the black arts at his disposal, we are frankly shocked they didn’t pull out bigger guns at the finale and really send this film off with something quite riveting.
Despite the swamp scenes being a bit up and down, there are a few distractions along the way – namely Facilier’s magic working back home (and malfunctioning at the best of times). There is a cast of colourful and joyful characters worth every minute of their screen time, another saving grace.
At the very least, this film at least attempted to stay closer to the source material (yes we are looking at you Emperor’s New Groove!) and spun a web round that premise. But like Hercules, The Princess and the Frog is assigned a specific genre of music to follow, so down to the deep-south we go. It is always a winning combination when Disney pick a period and sound setting for their fairy tales. They rarely repeat themselves and get the right people in to handle the tunes and dispite a few of the songs seeming to be more filler material, there are some great numbers featured in the film.
I suppose race is another issue that was important for this tale – it certainly lends to the time period and class depicted. The time seemed right for Disney to have a lead who was a little bit less “white” than previous incarnations. It’s a step in the right direction for equality – but it is never an issue brought up in the films context though – but you can’t blame Disney for not wanting to get too political.
By the end of the film you are satisfied with an entertaining story, well told – and yet disappointed that, despite its obvious charms, it dropped the ball in the mid section and as such is nowhere near the classic Princesses tale it could have been and which have come before. There are so many elements to this film which almost hit the mark, but sadly for Princess Tiana, a miss is as good as a mile.
The release of the film was criticised for the title – blaming the moniker “Princess” for the film’s small box offixe takings compared to some of the higher hitters. It was perhaps correct to assume that such a title is why so many young males gave it a miss, and perhaps why the new film “Tangled” dropped the original title “Rapunzel” (certainly not a title which will enthuse your six-year-old Action Boy). It is debatable the artistic merits of that name change – but the film is guaranteed to take in more green with a title that is both relevant and clever. The Princess and the Frog ignored its relevance and thought it could get by just by being clever. But like it’s cocksure Prince – it needed to learn a lesson or two about people before it could live up to its own potential.